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The Importance of Multiple Measures in Educating Today’s Learners & ESSA

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December 7th, 2017

What if we thought of student performance in the same way prospective buyers thought about purchasing a home?

For the home buying process, many consumers perform a ton of research related to the prospective home, including relevant details about community, the quality of neighborhood schools, and the city’s crime rate. This is all completed before making a definitive decision on a large investment.

However, when it comes to student achievement, we tend to look at end-of-year results to decide whether a student reached the level of performance that was expected.

What if, similar to the home purchasing process, we began to look at multiple information pieces to ensure all students found their inner gifts and talents?

Why We Need Multiple Measures

Student learning is complex, nuanced, and subject to many various factors. Students come to school with various home and community experiences each day that may impact their learning.

This may include factors like a student’s attitude towards reading or their view of adults. Students may be experiencing trauma at home or facing economic challenges educators are not attuned to.

Regardless, in today’s cities and communities, paying attention to students’ learning conditions is as important as the material they’re learning.

For example, let’s take Javier, a first generation English language learner. Despite being born in the U.S., Javier’s parents speak only Spanish at home. Due to cultural norms and values, resources, and economic pressures, Javier was not afforded the opportunity to attend transitional kinder or kindergarten. He wasn’t exposed to important skills and content knowledge to have full access to the first-grade curriculum or be taught in a language he comprehends.

His parents and community expect and hope that Javier will gain full participation in the American school system. Yet, the sad reality is that from day one, Javier will be embarking on a long journey to master academic content he cannot access, and he will end up years later lacking proficiency in English.

It would seem that several measures, taken in unison, are more likely to represent what any student knows and how they should progress through the arc of learning.

Recognizing the Shift in Federal/State Policy & Multiple Measures

With the passage of Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), student and school success are designed in a way to give states greater responsibility for building their accountability systems. ESSA has shifted from NCLB towards a more holistic approach by leveraging multiple measures to define student and school success.

At its core, ESSA has designed a process that places a much greater emphasis on continuous improvement and student growth rather than proficiency on an end-of-course summative assessment.

As part of ESSA, states are given latitude in the selection of the measures that go beyond test scores and graduation rates, while limiting the ability of the Department of Education on local indicators. Additionally, states have the ability to predefine the multiple measures they will use to support their continuous improvement efforts to ensure equitable outcomes for all students.

What is Required from ESSA?

First, ESSA requires all states to use academic standards in each state’s accountability system. States need to establish goals that include formative measurements of progress toward goals for all students while paying close attention to traditionally fragile learners (Matthis, et al., 2016). These student groups include students that are economically disadvantaged, racial ethnic groups, students with disabilities, and English language learners.

Additionally, ESSA is explicit in stating that each state needs to include the following indicators in their state accountability plans (Hammond, 2016):

  • Academic achievement measured by proficiency on summative assessments in English Language Arts and Math (grades 3-8, plus one selected grade in high school).
  • A statewide academic indicator for elementary and middle schools that measures student growth.
  • A four-year adjusted cohort graduation rate. States have the ability to go beyond the 4th year and add measures for adjusted cohort graduation.
  • A measurement of improvement related to English language proficiency for English language learners (in each grade 3-8, plus one grade in high school).
  • A minimum of one measurement that is related to school quality or student success. Valid and reliable measures may include student postsecondary readiness, engagement, access to advanced coursework, school climate, safety, or other indicators.

ESSA, Multiple Measures, and College & Career Readiness

Student success in obtaining college and career readiness is based on a student’s participation and performance in pathways that are tied to postsecondary success indicators. The use of multiple measures related to college and career readiness, which include college prep coursework, dual enrollment, and work-based experiences can and will provide a clearer picture of student preparedness more than a score from an end-of-year assessment, which are less powerful predictors of success later in life (Bae and Darling-Hammond, 2015).

Under ESSA, states have the option to include a number of college preparedness indicators:

  • A measurement of student participation in or completion of college preparatory coursework, or the proportion of those participating in AP and IB programs
  • Scores on college entrance exams, including SAT/ACT or AP/IB
  • Success in dual enrollment courses (concurrent enrollment in high school and community college); and/or
  • Postsecondary enrollment, persistence, and graduation

As a measurement for career readiness, state indicators may include:

  • The proportion of students who complete a comprehensive sequence of courses and internships in career technical education (CTE)
  • The proportion of students who complete work-based learning experiences that meet certain standards; and/or
  • The proportion of students reaching a defined level of achievement as documented through graduation portfolios, industry-approved certificates, licenses, and badges recognized by post-secondary institutions and businesses

For South Carolina, they report both college and career readiness indicators like participation and success in AP/IB programs, dual enrollment and career technology courses, and the number of students attending career technology centers (South Carolina Education Oversight Committee, 2015).

California’s Department of Education will include college preparatory course and state-approved CTE sequences of courses as part of their state accountability system.

Moving Forward

Multiple measures have allowed us to be more informed when make decisions based on a myriad factors. With the shift in new federal and state accountability measures, clearer definitions will be made to ascribe value to the use of multiple data points. This means we’ll be able to ensure more holistic measures are used to determine student success in their coursework and beyond.


Illuminate Education is a provider of educational technology and services offering innovative data, assessment and student information solutions. Serving K-12 schools, our cloud-based software and services currently assist more than 1,600 school districts in promoting student achievement and success. 

Ready to discover your one-stop shop for your district’s educational needs? Let’s talk.

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